With its latest otome visual novels, Aksys has gone with titles that are a little more unorthodox. Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly, for example, had a shooting mechanic to it. Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk, another entry in this series, has its own unique take. It focuses on investigating issues in town and only later, when things start to be resolved, offers some romance. This is complimented by a heroine who is a defined character with an actual voice and opinion.
In Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk, players follow a young woman named Eiar. She is victim of an unfortunate condition. She is a witch, as evidenced by one eye that begins glowing red when emotions are heightened, she is stressed or she may be in danger. Throughout the town, people are aware of a witch’s curse that has forced the place into an eternal winter. To avoid suspicion and protect the family that helped raise her, she lives her life as a boy named Jed, has retreated to a tower in the forest where she lives with an amnesiac “master” and performs odd jobs to get by. She is an unusual protagonist in a place where she needs to protect her identity. There is no fawning over bachelor candidates, letting other people fight her battles for her or naiveté. Whether she is working as Jed or being herself, she is a capable woman on a mission.
It is because Jed is a Jack-of-all-trades that this heroine ends up at the center of so many mysteries in Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk. Two families rule this town, the Wolves and the Hawks. While Jed was raised by the Wolf family, her conscious decision to leave and position aiding everyone to get by offers a sense of neutrality. This means she ends up involved in multiple investigations. Need someone to search for the Kaleido-Via, a relic that appears every 20 years as part of a Masquerade festival? The church taps Jed! A serial killer known as the Black Shadow is appearing around town rather often? Jed could help with that. What is up with this whole witch thing? Well, since Jed is apparently a witch, she should probably look into that too.
This means things proceed in an unexpected manner. To advance the story, Jed must explore the town. Some segments, which appear in blue, will advance the story and add to a flowchart of events that helps you see how things tie together. Other segments are more frivolous, allowing you to learn more about the town and collect various memories. These are easily distinguished by color, with blue moving the adventure forward and pink offering flavor text that can be helpful. Different areas unlock, depending on how far along and what Jed has done. You can not save or load from this town screen, which includes quick saves and loads, but portrait icons and descriptions do a good job of offering hints as to what to do next. It really encourages you to explore and check what different spaces have to offer.
There are some downsides to this presentation. Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is a game with a lot happening. Jed is a witch, with one wrong slip possibly leading to exposure, persecution and death. A serial killer is around, threatening people’s lives. You need to find an artifact no one seems to know anything about, even though there are clearly people around who had to have seen it 20 years ago. There are issues with people’s memories. So many mysteries are happening, and the disjointed nature of the storytelling here might leave people confused. (I played through it enough times to know what is going on, and there were times when I was flummoxed!) Also, those who really are hoping for some romance have to wait quite a while for those plotlines to kick into gear. It is satisfying, but it is also a lot.
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is an interesting visual novel. It is an otome game that focuses on finding out what is happening in Jed’s hometown, instead of making things all about finding love. It sends you around the area, allowing you free reign to make your own decisions about what you learn and see. It is about exploring and using what you have learned to understand the truth behind so many overlapping plotlines.
Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk is available for the PlayStation Vita.